Monday, November 27, 2006

Of Course, I Can't Keep Up With Tha Young Homies

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Alma Mater's Response

Director: Your story is really something, so thank you for sharing it with me in such detail. It is inspiring.

I have already shared your email with the Dean and am awaiting his response. I will follow up accordingly and hope to be back to you shortly. Hopefully, with a positive response.

Until then, best wishes,

The Director

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

G-Man Politely Tells-off the Begging Alma Mater

G-man, emailing the Director: Thanks for getting back to me. I encourage you to share this email with the Dean.

As you may recall, I came from a disadvantaged background. Let me elaborate. My parents were divorced since I was 8 years old. I grew up with my mother, who worked at minimum wage job in a drycleaner's shop. I graduated from a city-wide magnet school, in the top ten of my class. My recollection is that, along with my acceptance, the University offered me with a financial aid package, both grants and scholarships, and perhaps a GSL my freshman year. As a freshman, I often aced the most difficult courses, placing out of a whole year of calculus with my "5" on the AP test. In fact, I recall scoring so high on the university's E-M (second semester) Physics midterm as a sophomore, that the next highest grade was 40 points below mine. Yet, despite these and many other academic achievements, the financial aid package provided to me by the University rapidly declined. I participated in the work study program every year that I attended the University. I worked many hours per week making deliveries so that I could have money for food. I needed to take out loans to cover my books and living expenses (board) as a freshman, and then the maximum amount of loans allowable as a sophomore to help cover my increased tuition. Due to the astronomical increases in tuition (often several multiples of the rate of inflation -- something like 17% one year, as I recall), and without any adjustment in my financial aid package, and on financial probation, I had to drop out my last semester of my junior year. I took an intern engineering position with a large defense contractor, and ultimately enlisted in the navy to cover my projected expenses. My $3K sign-up bonus with the navy helped defray my last year's tuition. I doubled up on courses my senior year upon my return, graduating with distinction with a 3.54 GPA in the seven semesters I attended, with what would be considered back then to be an enormous amount of debt, as the tax code then changed, prohibiting the deductibility the interest expense of such debt against my future salary. It took more than ten years for me to earn enough money to pay off these loans while serving my country.

But the issue here is not my experience, nor the differences between the nuanced meanings of the words "scholarship" and "grant." The issue is whether similarly situated prospective students would be faced with the same or similar economic hardships, once they agreed to attend the University and accepted whatever aid package that was offered to them at the time they accepted it. As you know, I am concerned that my support would unwittingly lead to the same scenario as the one I faced. I do not want to contribute to a University that cares more about its endowment than its students, especially the kind of students that I'd like to help -- those who just need a chance to excel academically, without an added year-to-year burden that they might not be able to graduate because of their misfortunate financial situation.

What I need to know is this: what the University has done in the last 20 years to prevent what happened to me? I understand that it is rare for a student to leave and come back, but what about leaving and not coming back? Does the University keep track of the financial status of its students and their reasons for leaving? Do they understand how many leave because of financial difficulties? Is there a policy in place to ensure that the entire aid package (whether it's a grant, a scholarship, or a loan) keeps pace not just with the family's ability to pay, but also with the rate of tuition increases, so that financial gaps don't develop? From the tenor of the Dean's explanation, it appears that he blames the student for the bad acts of one or more of the parents "(usually because sometimes parents don’t want to pay as much as they can afford)." How does the University ensure that the few similarly situated students from broken homes that are extended offers to attend don't end up like me (or worse -- they leave and never finish)? Or worse yet, does the University merely tow the bureaucratic federal government line that a deadbeat parent must pay, because the deadbeat's income must be included in the FAFSA, despite the fact that the deadbeat has no inclination or legal motivation to help out the family that the deadbeat left? Ultimately, as you may now see, the student is the one who gets punished.

We all know that ultimately, a degree is very valuable. But so is moral integrity. Please demonstrate to me that the University is willing to do the right thing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

TV in Japan: Dude Blows Perfect Bubble Rings Underwater

When The Alma Mater Asks For Money

A Director for alumni affairs recently contacted me to find out if I'd like to give the alma mater some money. I told him that I was screwed by the University during my studies, because I started out with a full scholarship and ended up dropping out on financial probation because they raised the tuition without raising my aid. Here is what he said to me:

Director: I appreciate your candid feedback during our meeting on October 20th, as this information is necessary for us to hear. It allows us to be responsive to alumni and current students alike, so thank you.

I am, therefore, following up on our conversation about the university. Specifically, I have information for you regarding scholarship policies here at the university, as you mentioned that as a concern of yours because of your experiences as a student. Hopefully, the information I am providing to you will ease some of your concerns regarding your hesitation to support the University....

I contacted [the] Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid for the College. I described your experiences regarding your scholarship to [him] and inquired as to whether your experience would happen today. In addition to getting a detailed response to your concern, which is below, [he] has offered to speak to you directly should you want to do that.

Hopefully, our response will be sufficient, and that you will consider providing scholarship support to the university that can help worthy students. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you in greater detail should you have interest.

In the meantime, here is [his] response. Kindly let me know if this information fully answers your questions. Also, if you want to speak with [him], I can help arrange that, too.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,


The Dean's response:

I’m happy to take G-man’s call. I was a junior in college in 1984, and not at [the university], so I can’t speak too much about policies here at that time. However, I was working 40 hours a week and earning scholarships, so I can relate to his experience.

Things have improved. The standard practices and programs for aid have shifted a lot in the past 20+ years. The lingo has shifted a little. A student entering here who receives a “scholarship” understands that it is based on his achievements in high school, and that he will never see that scholarship reduced or increased while he’s here (except in the very rare case of flunking out).

On the other hand “grants,” which we award based on information we have about a family’s income, can in theory go up or down. In practice, they don’t change much because the family’s income doesn’t change much—wages and other earnings increase at about the same rate as college costs. So in any given year, about 70% of student grants stay roughly the same, about 25% go up enough to notice, and about 5% go down.

Those 5% usually understand exactly why this is happening. In today’s aid world, the only way a student’s grant decreases is if the family’s income increases faster than inflation, or if the number of children in the family attending college decreases. As a rule of thumb, we typically have to pick less than 20% of the new pocket money, so for a student’s grant to be reduced by $1,000 would generally require that the family’s income had increased by more than $5,000 after taxes. This scenario can happen: people get big raises sometimes, or a spouse may start earning (more) income because the child has left, or sometimes one parent cashes out a retirement option. But most people experiencing a sharp increase in income are aware that some of this new money is now considered available for spending on college. A more dramatic drop in eligibility and grant money can occur if there were two students in college during one year, but during the next year the sibling graduates or leaves school. In that case, we might typically ask for 2/3 of the money the family was formerly spending on the other college student. It works in reverse: if a younger sibling enters college, the continuing student’s eligibility increases by quite a bit.

Speaking of leaving as in G-man’s experience, it’s uncommon these days for students to drop out of private universities, earn money and return for future semesters. When students see financial trouble coming (usually because sometimes parents don’t want to pay as much as they can afford), they most often borrow more in order to finish on time. They expect to pay back their larger loans with their higher post-college earnings, and if they graduate from [the university], that works: our loan default rate here is among the lowest in the nation…less than 1%, or about seven graduates per year.

That’s not to say the concept of working your way through school has died. 2/3 of our students work, and more than 1/3 of upperclassmen work 20+ hours/week. About 3-4% work full time during the school year to pay a large share of their way through college, and many more will work overtime in summer. But dropping out and coming back isn’t a common plan, because the salary differential has increased in the last 20 years. There are on average far fewer high-paying jobs for people without a bachelor’s degree, so dropping out for one, and re-starting the countdown toward post-degree earnings, seldom makes financial sense. I recall that in 1984 in Los Angeles, I found jobs that paid $10 an hour, and that felt like good money to help pay my college bills. The problem now is, the jobs non-graduates can get may still pay only $10/hour…and often even less. Meanwhile both tuition and bachelor’s degree earnings have more than doubled.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Bedtime Story Postscript - Dubya's Got Problems

Dubya: G-man, first the Dems take Congress, then I get this letter from your daughter! Could things ever get any worse?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Bedtime Story Part III - A Happy Ending?

G-Man: Now, no more questions. Please rest your mind and body.
Little G: But I have more questions.
G-Man: Save them for tomorrow.
Little G: But I can't wait.
G-Man: Please, just make sure that you do something new with your life. Otherwise, you'll live your life like it's a life that you've been assigned. I've been wondering about that, at least since the last millenium, in a nihilistic, Matrix sort of way, that maybe we're somehow trapped. I have this feeling deep inside that something is missing. It's a feeling in my soul, and I can't help wishing, that one day, I'll discover that we're living a lie. And when I do, I'll tell the holy rollers the reasons why. But until then, all I know is what I need to know. Everything I do's been done before. Every idea my head, someone else has said. And at each end of my life is an open door.

Drinks for the first commentor correctly identifying the title, thus satisfying my moral obligation toward the right of attribution, although I claim fair use with respect to the copyrights of reproduction and performance, for telling the truth.

[continued ...]

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Bedtime Story Part II - The Big Bang Theory

Little G: Daddy, do you believe in God or Science?
G-Man: I believe in God and the truth. They're not mutually exclusive.
Little G: Do you think God created the Universe?
G-Man: Yes.
Little G: Some people say the Universe was created in a single moment. Are there dimensions to other universes, like black holes?
G-Man, after explaining the concept of the four space-time dimensions: I believe there is only one universe. A black hole is merely a severely dense concentration of matter -- I don't know if it leads anywhere, but most likely if it does, it leads back to our same, single universe. Some scientists believe that at one time, early in the creation of the universe all the energy and matter that now exists in the universe ...
Little G, interrupting and turning her fingers into a ball: ... was contained in a volume the size of a marble. Daddy, if everything was in that marble-sized blob, where was it? What was it in?
G-Man: Well, if everything was inside of the blob, then nothing was outside of the blob, ... so it must have been in nothing, and located nowhere?
Little G: ???
G-Man: Some things are beyond the comprehension of man. I think this is one of them, but please let me know if you figure it out.

[continued ...]

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Bedtime Story - Advanced Genetics

Little G was reading a book about genetics. The book described cloning, mutations, genetically engineered creatures, including humans, and the like.

Little G: Daddy, what's PGD?
G-Man: I don't know, let me see your book.
G-Man, after reading: It looks like it's a way to select the production of creatures. You know that our bodies are made up of cells that constantly divide and grow. This book says that you take a cell from a creature very early during the creation of its life, when it is made of only a few cells, say 8 cells, you remove the cell, and then test it. If the genetic testing of the cell reveals that the creature has genetically desirable features, then you reimplant the cells into the mother, where it gestates to become a baby.
Little G: That's cool.
G-Man: Once, the parents of a sick little girl wanted to help her live. She needed replacement cells from someone who was genetically similar to her. So the parents used PGD to help them pick the right brother for the girl, and had the boy. Cells from the boy's umbilical cord were used to save the girl.
Little G: Wow, that's really neat.
G-Man: I bet that once we study and learn the genetic makeup of a man, and identify the function of all the chromosomes in a cell, we will determine how to make us live longer.
Little G, rapidly turning pages: That's in this book too, see. Here it talks about the end zones of the genes and how they wear out after the cells divide too many times. It's like they are programmed for death.
G-Man: They'll probably figure it out during your lifetime, but not mine.
Little G: Daddy, what would you do if you could live forever?
G-Man: I would develop a way to colonize another planet, like Mars, and then from there, explore the rest of the Universe.

[continued ...]

Friday, November 10, 2006

My Train Buddy Tom

Tom and I ride the 7:10 Babylon train to New York together almost every morning. Tom has his favorite seat, and I have mine, all the way in the back. Yesterday, both Tom and I missed our trains, and took the 7:22 double decker, which we both dislike because we have to pick from the remaining seats left behind from the nasty, space-greedy east-enders.

Tom: Yesterday, i got my own seat in a two-seater, and the guy across from me started getting agitated. I know that something set him off, because he was flipping the pages to his paper really hard.
G-Man: Maybe it was just the election?
Tom: Well, I don't know what it was, but he kept glaring at me and flipping the pages hard. When I got up, I left my paper on my seat, and he said:
Tom, restating Anger Man's words: Are you going to leave that there?
Tom, in context: No, would you like to read it?
Tom, as Anger Man: I didn't ask you that.
Tom, in context: Well, then don't ask me anything else.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Busy Times

Dear Blog:

I'm sorry I've neglected you yet again for so long. I've been very busy litigating two cases against the same evil, greedy plaintiff. I'm trying really hard to escape from the Eastern District of Texas, but the evil, greedy plaintiffs keep pulling me back there. Not that I dislike Texas, really. I like the food and hospitality of those folks, but as jurors, they never seem to get it right. Or maybe, what's right for them is right for the evil, greedy plaintiffs, but not for the innocent defendants and everybody else. I wished I could make them understand that, while it's nice to award deserving plaintiffs damages for their good inventions, everybody ends up paying the tarriffs of the evil, greedy troll plaintiffs. This is because the cost of goods sold goes up across the board for everyone. As we all know, nobody is going to sell something at a loss, so we all collectively pay the evil, greedy plaintiffs who win. Sure, their local economy benefits from the influx of deep pocketed litigants, but don't just rule for the plaintiffs to keep the good times rolling. Jurors, you got to do the right thing.

So Blog, I make no excuses for neglecting you. I'll make a few posts now and then when I'm able. Please understand.